The horn shark
, Heterodontus francisci
, is a species of bullhead shark
, family Heterodontidae. It is endemic
to the coastal waters off the western coast North America
, from California
to the Gulf of California
. Young sharks are segregated spatially from the adults, with the former preferring deeper sandy flats and the latter preferring shallower rocky reefs
beds. A small species typically measuring 1 m (3.3 ft) in length, the horn shark can be recognized by a short, blunt head with ridges over its eyes, two high dorsal fins
with large venomous
spines, and a brown or gray coloration with many small dark spots.
Slow-moving, generally solitary predators, horn sharks hunt at night inside small home ranges and retreat to a favored shelter during the day. Their daily activity cycles are controlled by environmental light levels. Adult sharks prey mainly on hard-shelled molluscs, echinoderms, and crustaceans, which they crush between powerful jaws and molar-like teeth, while also feeding opportunistically on a wide variety of other invertebrates and small bony fishes. Juveniles prefer softer-bodied prey such as polychaete worms and sea anemones. The shark extracts its prey from the substrate using suction and, if necessary, levering motions with its body. Reproduction is oviparous, with females laying up to 24 eggs from February to April. After laying, the female picks up the auger-shaped egg cases and wedges them into crevices to protect them from predators.
Horn sharks are harmless unless harassed, and are readily maintained in captivity. They are not targeted by either commercial or recreational fisheries, though small numbers are caught as bycatch. In Mexico this species is used for food and fishmeal, and in California its spines are made into jewelry. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) does not yet have enough information to determine the horn shark's conservation status. It faces few threats off the coast of the United States.